Friday, May 30, 2008

No truth in rumours of Red Arrows olympics ban.

I just found in my spam filters a chain email promoting an e-petition which complains that the Red Arrows have been banned from appearing at the 2012 London Olympics because they are deemed 'too British'. My initial reaction was horrified disbelief: this turned out to be justified, because an internet search took about 30 seconds to refute the story.

London 2012 has responded to reports that the Red Arrows have been banned from the Opening Ceremony of the Games, describing the rumours as 'utter nonsense'.

The London 2012 Organising Committee will decide what to include in all celebrations and they will be a showcase of the best the UK has to offer. But with five years to go, decisions are yet to be made on what the celebrations will look like.

The Red Arrows have in fact been used before in connection to London and the Games. They did a spectacular fly over of Trafalgar Square in London to celebrate winning the bid in July 2005, and also flew over the Mall when the Athens Torch Relay was in London in 2004.

The DCMS and the Red Arrows themselves also released statements refuting the claims about the ban.

The comment was attributed to Mark Twain, a century before the internet, that a lie can get half way round the world before the truth has finished putting its boots on. These days if people don't stop to check before clicking "forward" it is more like a thousand times round the world. A good rule of thumb is never to believe anything in a chain email or e-petition unless you have thoroughly checked it out.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

400 hospital jobs to be lost in Cumbria

About 10% of the 4,000 people employed at the North Cumbria Acute Hospitals trust which runs West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven and the Cumberland Infirmary at Carlisle, representing about a loss of about 400 jobs over the two hospitals.

There is expected to be a programme of voluntary redundancies combined with redployment and natural wastage: large scale redundancies are not expected.

West Cumberland hospital is one of the largest employers in West Cumbria and this is not good news for the area: it also comes when the people employed by the trust have been having a difficult time and this will mean further stress for them.

I hope the trust will make every effort to resolve the situation quickly without compulsory redundancies so that the employees know where they stand.

More details can be found on my "Support West Cumbria Hospitals" campaign blog, see link at right.

Labour fails to meet two-thirds of its targets

The following recent article from the Telegraph reports government figures which were released the day after C&N, and which show that that Labour has not met its own objectives

By Melissa Kite, Deputy Political Editor

The Government has failed to meet two-thirds of its own targets in a fresh blow to Gordon Brown's credibility. Out of 76 targets set for public spending departments, from transport to health, Labour failed to deliver on 50, leading to new claims by the Conservatives that Mr Brown is "letting Britain down".

Key targets that ministers have failed to deliver on include reducing levels of reoffending; halving children in poverty; raising educational standards in secondary schools; reducing health inequalities; improving the lives of vulnerable elderly people; and getting more people to use public transport.

The failures were unmasked with the release by nine departments of their annual reports. Jack Straw's Ministry of Justice missed seven of its targets, the Department for Children, Schools and Families run by Ed Balls missed eight, the Department for Work and Pensions missed nine and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport missed eight.

Missed justice targets include a failure to reduce youth reoffending by 5 per cent. In fact such crime decreased by only 0.1 per cent. A target to reduce unfounded claims for asylum was simply scrapped.

In education, a target to ensure that 53 per cent of children have "good communication and social development" was judged to have suffered "slippage", as was a pledge to reduce truancy by 8 per cent.

At the Department for International Development, a target to reduce the proportion of people living in poverty in Africa from 48 per cent suffered "major slippage".

A pledge by the Department for Work and Pensions to halve the number of children in low-income households actually resulted in the number rising last year by 200,000.

Major health pledges were also failed, including a target to reduce infant mortality by 10 per cent by 2012.

Commenting on the announcement, Chris Grayling, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "If we needed any more evidence about the extent of Labour's failure it has been provided by the Government's own departments. The real losers from Gordon Brown's government are the British people."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Duff prediction of the decade ...

One of the traps facing anyone in politics is the temptation to believe what you want to believe rather than what is actually true. That's one of the reasons why I am advising my fellow Conservatives that we cannot take victory at the next election for granted but need to keep working on the right policies for Britain and to persuade the voters that a vote for us is not just the most effective way to get rid of Labour but a vote for a positive change.

I quote the comment below as an example of the way it is possible to misread a political situation if you listen only to what you want to hear. I was going back over some of the discussion on Nick Robinson's blog, when I found this prediction which was posted the day before the C&N by-election. Probably the duff prediction of the decade, but nevertheless a dreadful warning of how out of touch a political activist can get ...

At 09:35 am on 21 May 2008, Gary Elsby wrote:
"I spent yesterday in Crewe and Nantwich canvassing for Labour.

I spotted a lonely Conservative Poster delightfully taking centre stage above Gwyneth's Constituency office, rented out to a solicitor (how low do Tories wish to get?).
The remainder of the building was plastered in 'Vote Tamsin' posters.

Everywhere around the Constituency, Labour posters are proudly on display with only a scattering of Lib Dem posters.

Nowhere is a 'Tory boy' Timpson poster to be seen, after all, this is Crewe and Nantwich and not the old Kings road!

I spoke to everyone I saw and all but one couple were voting Labour.

The odd couple were very concerned about the 10p tax fiasco and had not made their mind up yet.

My view of what I have seen personally is that the media have bulled up a false Conservative victory and that the class war campaign has been a runaway success.

Dave should give up on a 2010 Conservative victory, step aside and allow No.6 to come in and take the reins."

I wish every Labour candidate at the next election that kind of "runaway success" and hope every Tory learns, inwardly digests, and remembers the lesson that this kind or arrogance and complacency is destroying the New Labour government just as it wrecked our position in the 1990s.

Quote of the Day

I am indebted to Iain Dale's blog where a gentleman named Patrick posted the following:

'If at first you don't succeed, maybe bomb disposal is not for you'.

Time for an independent body to set MPs pay and conditions

Repeated stories in the press about the pay and expenses of MPs, MEPs, and councillors, and what changes might be made to them are shredding what is left of the reputation of parliament and politics in this country.

This cannot go on. David Cameron was right to adopt the policy that a future Conservative government will give people the "Right to Know" with more transparent information about how MPs.

Both David Cameron and Gordon Brown have said that they are in favour of an independent body setting MPs pay rather than have the House of Commons vote on its members' own remuneration. So if the Prime Minister was serious about this, it should be implemented now, and let that independent body review the various proposals for changes to the expenses system which are currently being floated.

I have always said that neither councillors nor MPs should be put in the invidious position of setting their own pay. In some cases politicians have been justly accused of voting themselves too much money - I was once so incensed when Labour and Lib/Dem members of my previous council voted us all a 20% pay increase without reference to the independent panel which is supposed to make recommendations on the subject, that I refused to take the money and asked the officers to pay me an RPI increase instead (forgoing about £2000.)

But when people are voting on their own remuneration there will inevitably be accusations that they are feathering their nests whether it is fair or not.

One possibility would be a Royal Commission tasked to make recommendations on the pay and conditions of MPs and councillors within a year, with the results to be implemented in May 2010, e.g. immediately after the most likely date for the next general election so that every candidate for parliament knows the financial basis on which they will be standing for election. Thereafter independent panels meeting in public should set inflation adjustments for the House of Commons and for councils.

Statement from Sir Robert Atkins MEP

There have been a number of press comments about Sir Robert Atkins. I think it is only fair to give his side of the story as given to Conservative Home.

"My wife Dulcie was a qualified secretary when I met her in 1968. For 30 years, during my time as an MP, Minister and MEP, she has been my full-time secretary, paid the market rate. This has always been openly declared and well-known.

She has also been active in the community for many years, as is the case with many thousands of local councillors who give of their time, over and above their normal working environment. Dulcie is no different, except perhaps that she works during too much of her “leisure” time!

My son worked full-time in Brussels for a period after leaving University and was paid at the same – if not slightly lower rate – as other Parliamentary assistants of his age and experience. He was head-hunted away on a much higher salary and ceased working for me in 2004.

These employments were legally contracted and registered with the Parliamentary authorities, who have approved and audited them each year."

Monday, May 26, 2008

Girl blown off cliff

A teenage girl is recovering in West Cumberland Hospital after being blown over a cliff at St Bees yesterday.

She is alive because of the skill and professionalism of the St Bees lifeboat and a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter crew who airlifted her to hospital.

The accident prompted a warning from the emergency services about the dangers of walking in high winds, especially near cliffs. Dave Bullingham, the Cumbrian sector manager for the coastguard, urged people to take extra care this summer.

Information for this post was taken from the West Cumbrian News and Star.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

With apologies to The Clash

I've been following with interest the ongoing blog debate about Gordon Brown's position. Particularly interesting has been to see what Kevin Maguire of the Mirror, the man who is often "credited" with the idea of trying to paint David Cameron as a toff, had to say about Crewe and Nantwich - and the reaction of those who posted comments.

You can read his article "Brown's Crewe Cut" at

The extraordinary thing is that Kevin Maguire apparently can't help himself and could not resist using the expression "Toff Cameron" in the article.

The Labour campaign in Crewe and Nantwich has got to go down as the most inept by-election campaign for fifty years. Lowlights included insensitive racial comments apparently designed to play on the worst kind of paranoia against the local Polish community, Labour material publicising the fact that some Conservatives had delivered leaflets in a Bentley when these cars are actually made in the area and the Conservatives concerned were supporting a local industry, and some unedifying comments unworthy of a serious party about crime. But in a campaign marked by remarkable incompetence which contributed to the size, if not the existence, of the Tory win, the most spectacular boomerang of the lot was the "Toff" attack. And then Maguire, even as he admits that the result was a disaster for Labour, cannot deprogramme himself from writing "Toff Cameron."

The "Comments" posts have a great deal of fun with this. To give you a sample of the response to his article, a gentleman calling himself "Serf" posted the following alternative words to "I fought the law" by the Clash.

Serf said:
With apologies to The Clash:

Campaigning in the hot sun
I fought the Toff and the Toff won (twice)
I needed a job cause I had none
I fought the Toff and the Toff won (twice)

I lost a by election and it feels so bad
Guess my race is run
It’s the best chance that I ever had
I fought the Toff and the Toff won
I fought the Toff and the

Insulting Timpson with a class war
I fought the Toff and the Toff won (twice)
Tax the poor, what’s Labour for
I fought the Toff and the Toff won (twice)

I let down Gordon and it feels so bad
Guess my race is run
It’s the best chance that I ever had
I fought the Toff and the Toff won
I fought the Toff and the

I fought the Toff and the Toff won (7 times)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Post Office meeting

Copeland Council's response to the proposal to close eight post offices in the borough was finalised yesterday at a meeting of the council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Economic Development.

We pointed out that Copeland, which is one of the most remote if not the most remote area of England had been targetted for an above average proportion of closures - 25% of our post offices are proposed for closure compared with an average of 18% in England and Cumbria. This is contrary to the government agreement on "West Cumbria Proofing".

We pointed out that an extraordinary proportion of the minority of post offices in the area which have full disabled accedss and comply with the Disabilityh Discrimination Act have been targetted for closure.

We pointed out a large numbers of mistakes in the Post Office's access report and asked that all eight closure proposals in Copeland should be reconsidered.

After Crewe and Nantwich ...

I was pleased to hear David Cameron state after the stunning Conservative victory in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election that there would be no tory complacency and no "tory triumphalism".

He was right. Although the fact and size of this Conservative gain is a sign that voters in at least one constituency are prepared to consider voting for us in the numbers that would put David Cameron in number 10, that does not mean that we have yet convinced enough people that they should move beyond thinking about electing a Conservative government to actually doing so. Only a foolish Conservative optimist could imagine that a Conservative government is now inevitable, and we have to earn the privilege of being elected to govern the country by putting forward a positive vision for Britain.

We have to learn two lessons from the behaviour of Tony Blair at the equivalent stage of the 1992-97 parliament - one thing which he did absolutely right and one aspect of this approach which was absolutely, totally wrong and was a major contribution to the things which subsequently went wrong with his government.

What Blair got absolutely right was that, even when all the polls suggested he was heading for a landslide win, he refused to take a thing for granted or to regard his win as inevitable until the results were actually announced: he kept working for every vote and at no time allowed himself or his party to show the over-confidence which can put off the voters at the last minute (as Kinnock did at the Sheffield rally in 1992.)

Everything I have heard David Cameron and his team say suggests to me that DC has fully taken this on board.

However, what Blair got wrong was that in his search for every possible vote he promised, either explicitly or by inference, far more than he could possibly deliver. In some cases, as with the pledge to run a government which was "whiter than white" or the subsequent one to provide everyone with an NHS dentist within five years, Blair promised things which he had no idea how to deliver. In some cases, as with the broken promises at consecutive elections not to introduce or increase tuition fees for students, he appears to have made promises with blatant disregard for whether they fit in with the rest of his programme.

But most of all, on a whole range of issues Blair managed to give opposing groups with inconsistent objectives the idea that he was on their side. On Europe he at first managed to convince many Eurosceptics and particularly the Murdoch press that he would stand up for Britain while simultaneously persuading Guardian readers that a Blair government would support the European project. He managed to persuade big business that a New Labour government would be friendly to them (a promise which was mostly kept) and the Unions that he would do more for them (which apart from the minimum wage, mostly wasn't.) He managed to persuade public sector workers that he would spend more on public services while promising taxpayers that he would not increase taxes.

And when New Labour came to power they had made so many promises to so many groups that the constant need to keep a balance between then frequently stymied any attempt to take bold action to solve Britain's problems for fear of openly breaking with any part of the "New Labour" coalition. Blair's legacy was to have won three astonishing electoral victories, two of them with huge majorities, and yet acheive astonishingly little with them. In the process he has further eroded trust in politics.

The Conservatives must not repeat Blair's mistake. One of the most important challenges for the Conservatives now is to ensure that we only promise things we are certain we can deliver. I believe that David Cameron understands this point too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Joe Bragg R.I.P.

I've met a lot of very nice people since moving to West Cumbria - it has to be one of the friendliest places on earth - but Joseph Bragg MBE who died on Friday at the age of 80 was one of the nicest.

A true gentleman, the number of ways in which he served the community is far too long to list, but I will remember him for his ready smile.

Joe's funeral will be held at 12.15 tomorrow (Thursday) at St James' Church, Whitehaven.

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater ...

British society has changed a great deal in the past fifty years. People are organising their lives and families in a greater range of ways, and the law needs to reflect that. But one thing which has not changed is the needs of children for a secure upbringing.

It is all too easy for those on either side of any political or social debate to pay lip service to the need for the law to protect the interests of children but fail to recognise that sometimes this will mean things which interfere with their cherished ideas. This applies to hardliners on both sides in the debate on gay adoption and it applies to yesterday's vote on whether fertility clinics should be required to take account of children's need for a father.

The majority in the present parliament who voted to remove that requirement argued that they were removing discrimination against lesbian couples. Unfortunately they were throwing a baby's genuine needs out with the bathwater of prejudice. This law is a bad mistake and will need to be reconsidered in the next parliament.

I do not support discrimination against gay people, and there is no "but" at the end of that sentence. I believe that the need for children to have a secure upbringing applies whether their parents are gay or straight. And wherever possible, that should include a parental role model both of their own gender and the opposite gender. They will grow up to live in a society which is roughly 50% male and 50% female: they will need to get on with people of both sexes. It is particularly helpful that boys should have a positive role model for how adults of their own sex should behave.

This is not an anti-gay point or an argument that the state should stop gay people having children. There are plenty of same sex couples who have found ways to bring children into the world, often by an arrangement with a same sex couple of the other gender, and it is no business of government to stop that. Under the existing law many IVF clinics do provide assistance to such families, and they are not breaking the law because it is quite common for both the biological parents to be involved in raising those children.

Where a government or private clinic helps bring children into the world, they have a duty of care to those children. Considering the needs of those children for parental support from both sexes is a positive part of that duty of care. Yesterday's vote to remove that requirement will not advance the cause of gay rights and it will harm the interests of the prospective children.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Inverted snobbery in Crewe and Nantwich

What school a candidate went to, and who his or her parents were, should not be a major factor in an election, certainly not when compared his or her abilities and policies.

The comments I am about to make are a criticism of the childishness and hypocrisy of the Labour campaign in Crewe and Nantwich, not about the origins of the Labour candidate.

All parties have unfortunately been occasionally guilty of petty stunts at election times, but the Labour party dressing people up as "Toffs" was sillier than most. This would have been unwise at the best of times.

To use such a tactic just after the party got themselves in their 10p tax shambles when they increased taxes on the poor to pay for tax cuts for "Toffs" was spectacularly incompetent. And to do so in a by-election in which it is the Labour candidate, not the tory, who has an entry in Burke's Peerage and Gentry - go to the URL below if you don't believe me - is elevating both hypocrisy and stupidity to an art form.

You can find the entry for Labour's Crewe and Nantwich candidate TAMSIN DUNWOODY [Mrs Tamsin Dunwoody-Kneafsey) in Burke's Peerage and Gentry at the following URL:

Bransty & Harbour forum tonight 7pm, Bransty Legion

The Bransty and Harbour neighbourhood forum will be meeting this evening at 7pm at the legion on Bransty Hill.

Agenda items include the management of Parks and Open spaces in Whitehaven: this was placed on the agenda at my request following a letter I received from a Whitehaven resident who was concerned about the condition of one particular area and asked if the forum could discuss it.

Copeland Refuse strike likely from 27 May

The Unite union's T&G section has notified Copeland Council that their members working in the council's refuse department have voted for indefinite strike action from 27th May. The dispute is about the duration of the working day.

It is not yet certain what services will remain available. The council says that it intends to give priority to black sacks, black bins, trade waste and clinical waste collections. Garden waste and bulky collections are likely to be suspended for the duration of the dispute. Kerbside recyclinlg services are also likely to be affected but recycling sites will not.

The council says that it has offered a deal which would include a reduced working week, and an increase in both the hourly rate of pay and the overtime rate, with a flexible working day of between 6.5 hours and 9 hours. The union wants a fixed standard day of 7.5 hours.

Attempts are being made to seek mediation to avoid a strike but at the moment it does not appear likely that these will be successful.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Post Offices

On Friday and Saturday Copeland Council's Economic Development committee, of which I am a member, sat for two days hearing evidence about the Post Office closure proposals for Copeland.

The evidence we heard demonstrated that the issues around post office closures are more complex than many people might imagine, but we also heard enough evidence to build a strong case that in several respects the proposals unfairly disadvantage the Copeland area

For example -

* Many post offices are not fully compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA): the Copeland proposals target for closure an extraordinary proportion of those post offices which are, including several offices on which both the Post Office through disability access grants and the owners have recently invested large sums on disabled access.

* The overall target fot the proportion of post offices to close is 18%. This is supposed to be applied equitably accross the country. Yet the proportion of offices proposed for closure in Copeland, one of the most remote if not the most remote district in England is much higher at 25%. This is grossly unreasonable.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The 10p compensation con

George Osborne has attacked Labour's plans to raise the personal tax allowance, saying, "First we got the tax con - and now we are getting the compensation con."

The Shadow Chancellor made it clear that he supported any effort to compensate those hit by Gordon Brown's axing of the 10p tax rate - but that Labour had failed to address the root cause of the problem.

"This help is for one year only. It is a one-off payment, a one-off solution for tax rises that hit every single year."

George criticised Alistair Darling for not putting in place a long-term plan to compensate people, and accused him of only acting because Labour were "panicking" about the Crewe and Nantwich by-election.

He also pointed out that 1.1 million low-earners, on incomes between £6,635 and £13,355, will still lose out by up to £112 a year.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Feedback from Millom Neighbourhood Forum

I attended the Millom Neighbourhood Forum this evening in the Network centre at Millom School.

Main subjects for discussion were

1) the Minerals and Waste plan from Cumbria County Council, the Core Strategy and Development Control principles of which are currently out to consultation and awaiting examiniation in public in November

2) the future of neighbourhood forums, which may be adjusted to reflect the proposed "locality working" which the government is keen to introduce.

There was a good discussion - I found particularly powerful the comment from one or two local Millom residents and councillors that if we are going to have locality working it is a shame that it appears to be being driven top down from central government rather than bottom up from the localities concerned.

Forthcoming meetings - Copeland and Allerdale Councils both have their annual meetings in the next two days. The next Bransty and Harbour neighbourhood forum meeting is on 20th May.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Ironic comment of the week ...

Have been following the internet debate about the local elections. I did enjoy the following comment by "Mirthios" on the Political Betting site this morning - only the last line giving away that this post was actually an ironic one ...

"The YouGov/Evening Standard internet polls have been transparently used to try to influence the election by suggesting incredible leads for Boris Johnson when all conventional polls by companies like Ipsos-MORI and ICM have shown the election to be neck and neck.

A YouGov/Evening Standard poll on Thursday was just another attempt to deflect voters from the enormous stakes for London in this election by suggesting a Johnson lead which simply does not exist. The fact that it was accurate is even more annoying."

Local Election Results

This week's local elections represented a very positive move forward for the Conservative Party. These results are not just a vote against Gordon Brown and his Government. They are a positive vote of confidence in the Conservatives. People see a Party that has changed for the better, that is united and that has a strong team of leaders. Increasingly, they are looking to us to speak out on the issues they really care about - on improving our schools and the NHS, keeping down the cost of living and dealing with crime on our streets.

So far, the results show that we have achieved a 44 per cent vote share and have already gained 256 seats in these elections. We have taken control of 16 councils, including Bury, North Tyneside and the Vale of Glamorgan, and gained seats from Labour from Sunderland to Southampton, and from Cardiff to Great Yarmouth.

This looks like Labour’s worst vote share – at 24 per cent – since records began in 1973. Labour are now in third place, behind the Liberal Democrats (25 per cent) and have already lost 331 seats.

Local elections reflect local factors and cannot be regarded as an infallible guide to to the result of national elections. However, changes in local election performance are often associated with changes in General election performance.

There have been many cases in recent British politics of "mid-term blues" where governments who have bad council election results in which they were up to and including 11 percentage points behind going on to win the subsequent general election. However, there is no precedent for a government which more than 11 percentage points behind in local polls going on to win the following Westminster election. For the present government to come back from 20 percentage points behind an win would be the most extraordinary political recovery in British history.

That does not mean that we Conservatives can afford to sit back and take victory for granted: one Conservative spokesman said yesterday that we will not regard a Conservative win in the coming general election as being in the bag until the results have actually been announced.

David Cameron and his team will do everything we can to prove that we are ready to form an alternative government.

Whitehaven Golf Course

There have been two chains of debate on this blog about Whitehaven Golf Course.

* One relating to the planning aspects where it is clear that the developer failed to one of the conditions of the planning approval relating to the siting, and

* Concerns over whether the council obtained "Best Value" for the sale of the freehold of the course. This is also the subject of a complaint to the Auditor.

Unless and until the Auditor's report brings a new perspective to bear I stand by my earlier comments on this blog about the sale of the course, but in the interests of accuracy I have removed comments about the planning permission on some earlier posts which further investigation has established were not correct.

The current planning situation is that

1) The course was built in the wrong place and in breach of one of the conditions

2) This breach of planning control has not yet been resolved or regularised

3) The course was built in a location which obstructs a right-of-way.

4) An application to move the right of way around the golf course has been
submitted to the County Council and a proposal to do so is currently out to

5) I am now advised that when a decision has been made about the right of way,
Copeland council's planners intend to take whatever action appears appropriate
in the light of that decision, to regularise the planning position.

I stand by my previously expressed view that this issue should be taken to Copeland's Planning panel.

Rubbish bin saga

The fine imposed on a Whitehaven bus driver for putting four inches' worth too much rubbish in his bin has been paid by an anonymous donor. A Shewsbury company which makes Refuse compactors, "Waste Pact" has donated to the family one of their products called “The Little Crusher” which should prevent the issue from arising again. fits in the kitchen.

The Rector of Whitehaven, the Reverend John Bannister, had orgaganised a collection to pay the fine: he said that several hundred pounds had been pledged to pay the court penalty, with donations ranging from a few pounds to £50, but the amount was covered in full by one anonymous local donor.

Tory group leader David Moore, who had repeatedly urged at full council meetings that refuse collection policy should not be managed in a draconian way, said that “Some of us had asked for restraint, not a court case. The council has made itself a laughing stock nationally through all the adverse publicity.”

In my view, if the council had been looking to make a public example of someone we should started with a major push to catch and prosecute fly tippers.”

The Rev John Bannister said: “It’s shaken me rigid by the way this has escalated the length and breadth of the country. Fundamentally it means to me that the council has broken faith with a large number of this community and they have to find the means of repairing that.

“What it proves is that there is a far-reaching, wide ranging issue that has to be addressed. It has affected an awful lot of people who are deeply disturbed in case they could find themselves in a similar situation.”

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Local Election Day

There are no local elections in Copeland today, but there are elections in many other parts of the country, including Barrow, Carlisle, London, and St Albans.

Some people, particularly in the media, will interpret the results as if their main purpose was some kind of "test" of Gordon Brown's government. Voters are entitled to cast their votes however they wish, but interpreting the results as a guide to what would happen in a general election is unreliable, because this is not one.

Voters are choosing who they think is best suited to run local government services in their area.

I have been to campaign with some of the local Conservative council candidates in Barrow and Carlisle: I think they would do a good job and I hope local voters in Barrow and Carlisle reach the same conclusion.

It seems far longer than a year since I stood down from St Albans council and was elected in Copeland. I see that one or two old friends are standing down in St Albans and other old friends are bidding to make a return. It is amazing to me how many new names are in the frame in these elections whom I have never met. I do notice, however, that the Conservatives in St Albans are putting up a good mix of both men and women from a wide range of backgrounds including some from an ethnic minority background.

I have always believed that candidates should be selected purely on merit and ability, and that if this is really happening there will be a diverse range of candidates coming forward: the fact that this appears to be happening is a good sign.

One other comment on today's elections. I am deeply alarmed by the conclusions of the Rowntree foundation about the security of the ballot, particularly the electoral register and postal voting arrangements.

Britain has long prided ourselve on conducting honest elections but in former times this was not always the case. In the 18th and early 19th century (later in Ireland) British elections were often corrupt, and only a strong campaign for free and fair elections backed up by severe penalties made vote-rigging unthinkable.

We have recently - and rightly - condemned Zimbabwe's government for trying to rig their Presidential election. We must also apply the strictest standards of probity to British elections. Arrangements to validate both electoral registers and postal and proxy votes must be tightened as a matter of urgency, and governments must stop ignoring the advice of the electoral commission.